The former operational lead of the National Metal Theft Taskforce has warned that inadequate enforcement of the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act and a current lack of expertise is fuelling an increase in offending and problems linked to metal theft.
In an exclusive article for MRW, Robin Edwards (pictured) said theft declined significantly as a direct result of the enforcement activity between 2012 and 2014. But this was during a period of falling commodity prices and he believes that was generally overlooked as a contributory factor.
“I predicted the opportunists would return and theft would rise without a network in place to challenge the problem and enforce the legislation,” he said. ”Unfortunately this prediction is becoming a reality.
”It is naive to suggest that those who steal metal and, as a result, destroy our national heritage, disrupt our transport systems, communication and utility networks would not drift back as the risk of being caught diminishes.
“The expertise we built up to tackle metal theft has all but disappeared, and it is unclear how enforcement agencies could re-form the teams they dismantled,” added Edwards, a former police officer who has established Onis Consulting.
He is warning that if the value of commodities continues to rise or stays near the current level there could be an “explosion” in metal theft and associated problems.
Edwards’ comments echo those of the British Metals Recycling Association. In August, chief executive Robert Fell told MRW his members regularly reported scrap yards openly and illegally paying cash for scrap metal.
“Unless that metal is evidently stolen, the police remain unable to act, largely because they do not have the resources,” Fell said.
“This is incredibly frustrating as the one simple request the industry made to the Government when the Act was introduced was that it would be fully enforced.”
In a BMRA blog, Fell (pictured) added: “Like a live hand grenade, responsibility is seemingly being tossed between the Home Office, local authorities and even the Environment Agency. We know there is appetite among the police to roll their sleeves up but not the funds to achieve it. We remain convinced that those yards who are paying cash merit attention.”
Edwards is also concerned that the regime of licensing of scrap dealers, both in terms of sites and mobile collectors, is not rigorous enough.
“We continue to see unscrupulous scrap dealers taking advantage of the lack of scrutiny from asset owners,” Edwards said. “If we throw in a lack of enforcement, rising commodity prices and the use of cash, we have all the conditions for an increase in corporate theft.”